CEO of Clune Construction Company
In this episode, Matt and Eric sit down with Bill Abromitis, CEO of Clune Construction Company, at Clune's Chicago headquarters. A Chicago native himself, Bill graduated from Northern Illinois University and has over 30 years of experience in the construction industry. Clune repeatedly ranks on ENR's Top 400 Contractors List.
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In our conversation today, we talk about growing up on the South Side of Chicago, working during the 1992 Chicago River flood, hunting for pheasants in South Dakota, and being in the right place at the right time.
Eric: You sit down on a train or a plane and you’re striking up conversation with the person next to you?
Bill: You know what, I used to more than, uh, you have to read the signs.
Bill: You have to read people’s body language when you sit down. Because if you sit down and they’ve got all their stuff there, don’t even bother. And you’ve got other people that are kind of looking at you. Some people don’t even say good morning when you sit next to them or good afternoon when you sit down. I say that no matter what. And I actually don’t want to talk to somebody for 3 hours on the plane.
Bill: I’m exhausted by the time we land. Although, a good story, I did actually meet, oh my god, what’s his name? The power forward for the Golden State Warriors.
Matt: Draymond Green.
Bill: Yes! So I sit down on a plane. This is going to be a good podcast. I sit down on a plane, flying to San Francisco, and I always book business class. The flight’s just brutal, right, and I’m trying to work. So I sit down, and I sit next to this lady. She’s dressed nicely in like jeans, and she’s got a bag of candy like you wouldn’t believe for the flight. And I’m like, oh my god, you know, what am I in for? Being nice and saying, okay, you just never know about people, we started chatting. I don’t know a lot about basketball, and the playoffs were going on. I said, “Oh, what are you going up to San Francisco for?” She goes, “Oh, my boy plays basketball. I’m going to watch him play.” I said, “Oh, who does he play for?” She says, “He plays for the Warriors.” I go, “What’s his name?” She goes, “Draymond Green.” I go, “Oh! Is he good?” And you know, she’s looking at me like…And so I look up on my iPad, and I’m like, “Is that him?” She goes, “That’s my boy!” We had the best conversation. She works with disadvantaged kids out of Michigan in the Detroit area. And she just started telling me about everything Dray’s doing. She actually works as a security officer at the Junior High, trying to stop girls from getting into trouble. They all look at her as a kind of role model now.
Eric: So you hit it off?
Bill: Yeah, we were best buddies. So I went, “Well, tell Dray he’s got a new fan.” I said, “I’m all over him.”
Eric: And had you been listening to a podcast you would have never made that connection.
Eric: So there you go, there’s the argument against podcasts.
Bill: Right, that’s my warm up.
Matt: You mentioned before that you grew up in Chicago, and you grew up on the South Side.
Matt: That's an interesting place to grow up.
Bill: You know, that's a lot of police officers, firemen, blue-collar workers and the like. So it's real people, real neighborhood. Yeah, it's great.
Eric: Do you feel like you still have a connection to those types of people in the city of Chicago?
Bill: I actually golfed yesterday...we had our superintendents outing yesterday, which is really a collective Chicago golf outing of just our staff. We've been doing it, oh my gosh, we've been doing it for 25 years and we had it on the South Side at a place I used to golf at when I was a kid, Gleneagles. And the kid I was golfing with, I don't think I've ever met him maybe once, he's one of our new hires in the Mission Critical group and he actually lives in Beverly. He actually went to the same grade school I did, St. John Fisher. So when you say have a connection, you know, you still kind of know the neighbors and his dad's actually a fireman too. So to say you have a connection, I don't think you ever lose it living in Chicago.
Eric: Yeah, there's like a very strong personality type of, I feel like, Chicago police officers. I feel like they're kind of easy to spot sometimes.
Matt: So they're all from your neighborhood?
Bill: Oh they are. I mean, you have the South Side, you have North Side, and there's a big difference, and then you have urban. So in Chicago, those three regions, you could tell where somebody from, just talking to him for sure.
Eric: What are the things that stick out to you that tells of what neighborhood they come from?
Bill: I think on the South Side, they have their own vocabulary of words. They invent words. I mean, there's words that...it's really the slang. People may say it's uneducated but it's really just, you're just kinda talking the way everyone's talked, you know, their whole lives. So, grammar might be a little bit fuzzy in that neck of the woods.
Matt: What's that piece of the slang?
Bill: There's a food store called Jewel [SP], right? But in the South Side you call it "the Jewel." There's a "the" in front of everything. So like, "I'm going to the Jewel." I'm not going to Jewel, I'm going to the Jewel. Everything's got a "the" in front of it. For some reason, you're identified it as "the," and it's pretty funny. My middle daughter, when she went to school at Villanova in Philadelphia, they knew exactly where she was from and then she would always say, "Oh yeah, I'm going to, you know, to the bar," or, "to the Jewel," or to the...whatever the mart is that happens to be there. It's funny.
Eric: People I know from out West they call the highways like the 405, or like the...
Matt: Yeah, that's right. I was thinking about that too.
Bill: Yeah, that's probably...yeah. Same type of thing, right.
Eric: So, blue collar neighborhood, growing up, what did your dad do for a living?
Bill: My father actually died when I was five years old. He passed away from a heart attack. He was a salesman of steel products in the South Side, really further South, like Cal City area. That's back when the steel industry was pretty prevalent out in Gary, Indiana. So a lot of his family's from that. What little I do remember about my dad, he was an outdoorsman. He was from Michigan. He skied, hunted, had a lot of that in his life and, you know, when he passed away, you know, we weren't a super close family. His family was still in Michigan. So, really if you wanna say anything, I was probably raised by the neighborhood on the South Side, which our neighbor was an undercover detective, kinda took me under his wing. He was also a football coach. I think everyone kinda pitches in to try to take the fatherless. My mom had...we had four kids at that time. You know, I was five, my brother was six, my other sisters were three and four. So it was pretty rough.
Eric: So this is a next-door neighbor, he's an undercover detective and he's like, "I'm gonna kind of step in."
Bill: Yeah, he'd come home in an Illinois Bell truck because he was on undercover.
Eric: Yeah, he was undercover.
Bill: Yeah, at that time, we couldn't tell anybody what was going on, you know. But yeah, he'd show up, and yeah, he was a Chicago cop.
Eric: Do you remember a specific story about, you know, something where he went kind of above and beyond what you would expect what a neighbor...?
Bill: Well, I remember him trying to teach me to be a lineman and, you know, I'm probably, what, in sixth grade, and he's a Chicago detective and, you know, he's probably built a little bit like me, you can't see it on the podcast, but a lot stronger and thick. And I remember he and I getting down on a four-point stand in the backyard and he's just kind of show me some moves, and he hits me with a forearm and I just flew like six feet in the air and landed on my butt. And he looks at me and he goes, "I guess you're not gonna..." He goes like this, "I guess you're not gonna be a lineman." I said, "No."
Matt: That's great.
Eric: So what does your mom do? Especially, like, after your dad passed away?
Bill: You know, my mom, Polish descent, hard worker. My mom always had a job. She actually worked at the mall. Back then, you'd walk to school. We went to Catholic school and we'd walk and so she'd take off for work and she'd work in the catalog department back before internet at Montgomery Ward's and then she'd be home for dinner for us. So, I mean, my mom had a high school education and she just tried to make ends meet. You know, obviously, we had, you know, Social Security support, otherwise, we wouldn't have been able to do what we did.
Eric: So a lot of you and your brother kinda run around the neighborhood looking after the family, looking after the younger sisters?
Bill: Yeah, I think that, you know, the family, we all had our friends. I just came across a photo yesterday or a couple of days ago, I was going through my Apple and I had scanned in an old photo. There was my brother, myself and my friend, Dave, walking to Beverly Park with our hockey equipment. So, I've got my skates around my neck, I think I was in sixth grade at the time and, oh my gosh, that's hilarious. I mean, we had full gear and we're walking to the park because we skated outdoors every single day, every day.
Eric: How far was the park from your house?
Bill: Probably four or five blocks. And we had a neighbor, who worked for Kodak. You know, back then, there were a lot of cameras, people actually took more movies than they did photographs because the developing was as...but he worked at Kodak. He would take pictures of the kids in the neighborhood as they traipsed by his house to the park or whatever, and then he would send you the picture on Christmas. He would send it out to everybody. So luckily he did that because we've got all those photos.
Eric: That's the origin of [crosstalk 00:06:26]?
Bill: Yeah that, and we had Halloween costumes, you know, and that sort of thing. So he always kind of documented that end of it.
Matt: Oh, that's a good idea for you guys to start doing it at your house because you get so many people that walk past your house out your window. You just start taking pictures of them.
Eric: I feel like today it's a little bit weirder although, right, if you're out there with your camera taking pictures of the kids in the neighborhood. Maybe it doesn't go as well in the internet age as it used to.
Bill: True, true.
Eric: So you grew up playing pond hockey at the park?
Bill: Yeah, and baseball. Yeah, we signed up, you know, my brother and I signed ourselves up for the baseball league, little league, came home and told my mom we need 20 bucks cause we've signed up for baseball. And, you know, he and I love sports, you know, that's what we did. I mean, that was essentially, you know, around the neighborhood. We didn't watch a lot of TV. We watched "The Brady Bunch" and those types of shows around back then, but I think for the most part, you were out playing with your buddies all day.
Eric: Still friends with people from the neighborhood?
Bill: I would say not in Beverly as much although we had talked over time. One of them ended up being my neighbor out in Glen Ellyn when I lived out there. I'm more friends with my high school friends still, yeah.
Eric: And then what high school did you end up going to?
Bill: I ended up...we moved out to the suburbs in Palos and Orland...I ended up going to Carl Sandburg, so I was in the South suburbs.
Eric: How old were you when you moved out to the suburbs?
Bill: Seventh grade. I did my eighth grade out in junior high in Palos. That was my first organized football I joined. In high school I said, "Okay, I'll go for freshman football." And I didn't play lineman.
Eric: What did you play?
Bill: I actually was a running back and a defensive back. Actually, they put me at linebacker one year, I just got run over a lot but I gave it a go.
Eric: So what led the move out to the suburbs from the neighborhood?
Bill: So my Ma got remarried. My mother would get remarried to another widower who was from Greenwood on the South Side. He had a young son and we bought a house out in the suburbs. A lot of migration was coming really from the city, that area, out to the suburbs when it was just starting to get developed.
Eric: That was that era. New developments...
Bill: Yeah, big push out to the suburbs, right.
Eric: Do you remember any like major changes that you felt like you went through when you went from Beverly to the Palos area? As a kid, did you sit there and go...?
Bill: Totally different going from...you know, there's a difference in Chicago. There's urban city, then there's, you can call it the suburbs of Chicago, which is like the Beverly area where you've got a little bit more grass and backyards and things. But it's still the city, you walk everywhere, and then you go to the 'burbs where everything...where you have to drive. I remember when I was a kid going to play hockey in Oak Lawn, and my brother and I would take our gear down to 99th street and we'd hitchhike because my mom didn't have a car. And we'd always get a ride and then we'd get a ride back, and I think going out to the suburbs, you know, you rode your bike everywhere or you needed to get a ride and, you know, back then he could still hitch, you know. So sometimes we'd ride our bikes, you know, eight or nine miles back home back to where we grew up and then, you know, to visit our friends and then come back.
Eric: Harder to bike with your hockey gear.
Bill: Yeah, it's a little tough.
Eric: Would you do it?
Bill: No, not with the gear. We'd have to thumb. No, we'd hitchhike. Thumb it, that's called thumb it, right?
Eric: And you never had a problem getting picked up to go to hockey?
Bill: No. In fact, you'd get picked up by the nicest people because they were all hockey fans. If you had a hockey stick out there and your bag, they knew you needed a ride and they'd pick you. You'd get a ride within five minutes, someone would give you a lift. Yep.
Eric: That's great. And you still play hockey today?
Bill: I do.
Eric: What's the adult hockey scene like in Chicago?
Bill: It's a lot tighter than you think. Everyone knows everyone or knows of somebody, and not that you know everybody but you know enough people that are in the different groups, in different skates that we have. And then they all play on different teams. I don't play leagues, but it's a tight group. I've been skating with these guys, a lot of the same guys for 20 years, 25 years.
Eric: So it's informal but competitive?
Bill: Oh yeah.
Eric: So full pads?
Bill: Yeah. No, it's full gear and we play hard and we've got some young talent out there and we bring in, you know, some of it's great that, you know, we've been doing it long enough that are our children, some of the kids are out there skating and they're really good. We've seen them grow from, you know, being squirts and they're, you know, 10, 11 years old and now they're...you know, some of them going on to college and then they come back and skate with us and they're pretty darn good. But it's a lot of fun.
Matt: Do you have an end date in sight or are you gonna keep skating until you can't anymore?
Bill: Until you can't anymore. I would say, anybody that plays hockey, it's probably until you can't do it anymore. We have a guy that skates and he's gotta be, I think...oh my gosh, he's gotta be 70, 73 years old.
Matt: Oh, and there are so many.
Bill: Oh yeah. But you give them plenty of room. So, you play the level and, I mean, you're competitive but you're not. You gotta play the right way.
Eric: You kinda find a safe, like, equilibrium depending on who's out there and who you're up against.
Bill: Exactly. Well, you know, right? You play?
Eric: Well, we played pond hockey growing up, then switched over to soccer and I play in some adult soccer leagues. It's kind of the same thing, right? Like depending on who you're right next to you, you either kind of give them their space or you go a little bit hard.
Bill: If you both are equal on talent, you're going hard at it and if they're not as good as you and vice versa. I don't like it when people give me room because then I still feel I'm kind of as good as they are, but they're like, "You're not."
Eric: So you're feeling that? Youfeel like guys are giving you room now?
Bill: Well, I get older now. Yeah, it was funny because I just got remarried and I actually skated the morning before my wedding. So, I told the guys, I said, "Hey, you know, we're going out for breakfast today. This is my last breakfast." And you couldn't believe how many goals I scored. I mean, there was like this cone of protection around me, no one would get within five feet of me.
Eric: Yeah, that wouldn't have been good. So a young guy gives you too much space and then you go up and you kind of give them the business a little bit like, "Hey, don't do that to me."
Bill: I think I just play a little harder on him when he comes back down, so then he'll return the favor. And I have a lot of young guys that we go after it pretty good. I mean, they wanna beat me, you know, and I want to, obviously, you know, get past them so it keeps it competitive.
Eric: I love those little, like, informal back and forth things. That's a great part about sports.
Bill: And we've been playing with enough of the same people that everyone knows who's going to be on each other.
Eric: All right. So, football in high school out in Palos, any other sports you played growing up?
Bill: I played baseball. I played three years of varsity ball in high school. I also played some in college.
Eric: Oh, you played baseball in college?
Bill: Yeah, I pitched and played some hockey in college, ended up going to a junior college, played some hockey there as well, played some semi-pro ball, and after a while, it just gets to be too much, but yeah.
Eric: Growing up, do you remember having any thoughts about career in your childhood? Looking around the neighborhood, saying, "Hey, like these are what this person does and that's something that I could do or this is what, you know, somebody else does and I could do that," or...?
Bill: I think that with my father passing away at a young age and my mom being, you know, in the position she was in, the people that you're circled, you know, you're around, you're kind of thinking, "I'm gonna be in the trades," or, "I'm gonna be this," because you're not...there's nobody there saying, "Hey, you can go be the CEO of a construction company that builds high-rises," because you don't even know it exists. And I think that if you're looking at role models, you know, as a young man or a young person, and you could see it here in some of the interns that come through, they're really looking for direction on where are they supposed to go or what are they supposed to do?
And not really having anybody close in the family or somebody to take you under your wing, I think you're just exposed to what you see and what you see is where you live. I would say that, you know, I painted for a number of years, started painting when I was 15 in residential construction and learning that trade was great. And I think that, you know, the thought was I would continue to do that, but everyone pushed me. My mom's biggest thing was, "All my children are gonna go to college," back when you could afford it. It was easy enough to do and she pushed us to do that. I would say, you know, at some point, you know, my grades went from pretty good to just average. So you know, we just kind of went to college, wherever was near us, you know. We were going U of I, going Northern, Illinois State, I mean, nobody really looked...there weren't a lot of people looking to go...you know, "I want to go to North Carolina," or, "I wanna go to Texas." That isn't really where you came out of on the South Side. You were kinda into the city, Iowa or something like that.
Eric: You weren't looking at Ivy League schools necessarily, not on your radar.
Bill: Nobody even thought about it. Right? That was for the other people to go to.
Eric: Interesting. That's wild.
Matt: Did you look at college as like a formative experience then if you went into it with that mentality or was it just kind of something you did?
Bill: I went into it because it didn't cost me anything. Basically, I had enough financial aid that it was free. I worked the football games. I was actually one of the play-by-play announcers at Elmhurst College as a freshman. I think I got through two games and I was a little too flamboyant and they yanked me.
Eric: You got some tape from that?
Bill: I wish. I remember saying, "Holy cow, look at the pass" or something, and I see like everyone looking up at me and I didn't realize that they could actually hear what I was saying out there. Because you don't realize how loud it is, right, but that went well. I think that I went to school, I wanted to play ball. I really enjoyed baseball. I don't know that I was ever gonna go pro on it. Myself and a couple of guys from a team kinda migrated out there. We were recruited and that's kinda where you started. My brother was at U of I in the engineering program because a lot...I think he's a lot smarter than me. He obviously tested a lot better than I did on the ACTs and all that. So he was accepted, I wasn't, and that's where I ended up.
Eric: Do you have a coach that was formative when you were growing up that you, like, kind of also took some of that father figure position for you?
Bill: We had two coaches. Actually, my hockey coach was awesome. Ralph. Ralph was our hockey coach in high school. Don't ask me where they found him. He was a great coach, really knew hockey. He was such a good guy, as good, wholesome, get your S together stuff, he could see through all the BS of the kids, but he took a group of high schoolers and, you know, we played well for him. We played hard for him.
Eric: So what kind of lessons did you learn from Ralph?
Bill: Ralph kind of teaches you that there's a right way to do things and there's a limit on things, like, you know, we could have a beer or two, but that was it. Like, you're gonna cut it off, you know, this is what is okay to do. I also had a baseball coach, Ron, who was a catcher in the Yankees farm system, threw his shoulder out, but he was a great coach, a little...he was an English instructor in high school. He was by the book. He was real serious, he was a varsity coach. You know, I do remember him bringing me in and talking, you know, one on one with me. Coaches talk to the group, you know, we had football coaches too, but they're a little bit, you know. Ron would talk to you a little bit more intellectually about what you're gonna do, what this team means to you. What you can achieve as an individual. What's your talent, tell you what your strengths were and keep it open and honest. So instead of having maybe a father that you would or wouldn't listen to, you had Ron kinda telling you, "This is the way things are." He was good people.
Eric: So he would pull you aside, have a one-on-one conversation outside the team and encourage you in what you were good at or encourage you to get better at things.
Bill: He would challenge you. He would say, "You're better than that. You can pitch better than that, you know, here's what you need to do." He'd say, "Abro [SP], you know, come on, I wanna talk to you today." You know, getting cold-called in the coach's office was always like, "Oh, what did I do" kind of stuff, but it wasn't like that at all. It was pretty low key. You know, all the coaches be there and you get your accolades at the end of the year and they'd recognize you and they pay attention and, you know, he was a good coach to play for.
Eric: Did you maintain a relationship with him after baseball?
Bill: Not really. I think he was closer to retirement than anything. The area was growing so much, they built another high school. So a lot of our coaches that were like the JV coaches all moved over to varsity coach, so they were all at the new school. A lot of that gets split up my junior, senior year.
Eric: After having these experiences with these coaches, did you ever have a moment where you looked at as being your duty as something you could give back to younger people to be a mentor in their life?
Bill: For sure, I wish I did. You know, I have three daughters, so they all played soccer, club soccer. I didn't play soccer, but I come to appreciate the sport and the difficulty of it and the teamwork and the way you really have to play the game correctly. It's a lot like hockey, you really need to play your position and be aware how the play develops. With three daughters running around in club soccer, there wasn't a whole lot of time.
Eric: What club did they play for?
Bill: They played for the Pride, Windy City Pride, out in Lemont.
Eric: Yeah, I think a lot of crossover between hockey and soccer, especially like indoor soccer when you've got five guys on the field because it's almost the same spacing and movement.
Matt: And the pace of it, it's really similar.
Eric: And the pace of it, yeah.
Bill: Except no gliding in soccer, right?
Eric: Yeah. No skating backwards.
Bill: That's true.
Eric: No backwards at all.
Bill: That's true.
Eric: So going into college, going to play ball, always saw yourself as doing something in a trade. Let's talk about that time, like right post-college.
Bill: So I would say this, in college, you know, we all started looking at, what could you do when you graduate? I'm not sure kids do that these days. They look at what interests them, that's what they go into, not...We were more there, what kind of job am I gonna get when I graduate? Engineering and computer science and all of that was like the big push when I was going to college in the late '70s. I wouldn't say engineering, my brother's in engineering. I mean, I always liked, you know, building and just being out, smelling lumber and all that. I just, I don't know, I liked it, right. So I thought engineering, I think I'm smart enough to do something like that. My first teacher at Elmhurst College, he's actually a physics major, had his doctorate from Harvard. He told us he chose to teach at a small school, liberal arts school because he didn't wanna get caught up into, like, a big university system. I just loved the physics. I loved the analytical side of it, the problem solving, and I was good at it. I wasn't as good at some of the other theoretical, the economics and the chemistry, that memorization and things like that. I was more of, you know, a physical sense.
Eric: Were you strong in math?
Bill: I was. I was pretty good at it. Yeah. Some of it was so easy. I just, I didn't quite understand why it was so easy and then it got pretty hard. I mean then it was difficult. Fortunately, I didn't have to go too far into calculus and trig and that sort of thing.
Eric: Your prof really got you into physics, realized, "Hey, I'm good at this." Then you're like, "All right, I can do something in mechanical engineering."
Bill: Yeah. Well, that's what I thought. The whole thought was for me to get a two-year degree there and then to transfer. It didn't quite work out that way and ended up playing more baseball in college, went to junior college, got my associates and then went to Northern and I thought, "Well okay, this engineering thing is a lot of...you know, maybe I should go into business." Seems like business, right...seems like business, I don't know what it means, but I'm gonna do some business.
Eric: Pretty broad.
Bill: I'm gonna do some business. So we go there and I think after the first class I took, or two because I think I took two classes, and then I took some computer science, some, oh my God, what was it called, Cobalt or something, some kind of...with cards...
Eric: [crosstalk 00:23:19] language.
Bill: Yeah, you had to punch the cards and all that stuff, that was not me. It was too loosey-goosey, right. So I transferred to the industry technology department, which was really the engineering department in Northern and just started into that program. I had tons of credits to graduate, more than I needed, but not everything I needed in the discipline. So I ended up sticking around there for like an extra semester to fulfill the requirements, but I loved it. I loved it.
Eric: Still love DeKalb?
Bill: I do.
Eric: Do you go back to DeKalb? Do you go to games and stuff?
Bill: We go to games a couple times a year, yes, to the football games. It's great.
Eric: Yeah. That's a good time.
Matt: What was their mascot? Were they the Barbs?
Eric: No. That's the high school.
Matt: That's the high school.
Bill: Yeah, Barb City. Yeah, the Barbs, Barb City. Yeah, they invented barbed wire...
Together: Barb wire
Bill: ...in DeKalb.
Matt: That's what they're famous for but then also was it Cindy Crawford from DeKalb, something like that?
Eric: I think Cindy Crawford.
Matt: Those are the two things it's famous for.
Eric: We played them in high school.
Matt: And Phil Vassar. Phil Vassar was from DeKalb. There you go.
Eric: All right. You had this experience in college and then first job, what's going through your head?
Matt: Yeah, how'd you get into...did you go into construction right out of college?
Bill: So, then you graduate and there's no jobs, it's like a recession, and it was tough. I started painting for a while. I ended up getting a job for an electrical contractor at Braidwood, Illinois building a nuclear plant. I was working for the quality control department within COMSEC Engineering. And what they were doing was hiring a bunch of college graduates to work in the safety department and we were document reviewers of the NRC, documents for cable poles, electrical terminations, welding. We went through a bunch of training on that, and it was myself and other engineering graduates from like Wisconsin, Notre Dame. That's how tough the market was. There just weren't enough jobs out there, and then also just some others that didn't have engineering degrees. There was about a group of about six or seven of us there that that was our first job and we were working nights, we were working...I ended up having to join the union for some reason. It paid good money. It paid really good money, so, you know, stuck that out for about two years.
Eric: Do you feel like you had a determination and grit that some of your coworkers didn't have from different backgrounds coming from a blue-collar neighborhood and some of that?
Bill: Well, my friend Luke was from Homewood, so he had a little bit of that. He was from a large Italian family. No, I'd say they were all fairly gritty. I think they were all fairly gritty because a lot of them were from the area as well. I mean I don't think everyone was Luke, everyone kind of fit into that. And it was a blue-collar environment. I mean, we were working with traveling inspectors who, you know, they were Harley guys, these were Harley...you know, these were some people that traveled. When they were building all these nuc plants, they would just go from plant to plant, you know, they went around. And actually great friends, ended up becoming very good friends there with a lot of the inspectors who if you saw them on the street, you'd probably cross the street because you're like, "Oh boy."
Eric: So working at the nuclear plant, where are you living at this point in time?
Bill: I was living at home. My mom worked mornings and I actually was working nights. I was working the night shift, believe it or not, like 4:00 to 11:00 or 4:00 to 12:00 or something like that. So stayed at home, commuted with my friend Luke to Braidwood. It was a 50-mile ride or whatever it was and, yeah, just stayed at home in Palos.
Matt: What was your next job after the nuclear plant?
Bill: It's funny, I just sent an email to a friend of mine, Bob, because we golfed at this golf course yesterday that he and I used to golf at when we were in high school and he's selling roofs or something down in Florida. And I said, "Oh my God..." He's doing cold calling door to door. My job after I quit the nuc plant was selling chemicals for an industrial chemical company. I kind of thought this might be an opportunity for me to get some sales experience, but the company was...all they needed was...like, they trained us, Bedford [SP] part company, small little family company. They really just needed a bunch of people go out and get their message out and do the marketing for them for free, and it'd be like a commission basis or something. So I did that for like three months. I got a little bit of money from it, but it was interesting. It was interesting.
Eric: So after doing, you know, document review staff, you're like, I wanna do something a little bit more on the business side.
Bill: It was just...yeah, the document review stuff was very...
Bill: It was horrible. There was no challenge. Right? Yeah.
Eric: So, you're like, "All right, I got to find some..."
Bill: I have to get out. I have to get out. So I took this job...
Eric: You're a competitive person, sport background and you thought, "All right, well sales is kind of..."
Bill: I'll give it a shot. Right? Let's see what this is all about. Right. So we tried that. I was actually getting married then, actually left that job, got married, or we were getting married anyway. I worked painting for a while. Then I'm like, I got to figure something out, and a friend called and said, "Hey, do you want to...would you like to work for me doing estimating for Morse Diesel [SP], we build high rises?" And I'm Like, "What does that mean?" I think I went and interviewed for that. I also had a friend that was working at the Options Exchange and the other option, he said, "I think you'd be really good at it. You can come do runner for me. Learn the business and we'll see where we go." Right now, I think he owns two jets, and yeah. Oh and we still golf and we're still good friends, but I still made the right choice. It was a pretty crazy environment back then, back in the '80s.
So we got married, joined up with "Morse Diesel and I just loved it. I absolutely loved it. I loved the long hours, that's back when you could smoke in the office. My boss was...you know, I think there's some questions here about mentoring, Mohammed, a little guy and just awesome. He was as ruthless as you could imagine. He was just in your face and he could swear with the best of them. You learned how to build a building using the drawings. I'd asked the dumbest questions because I didn't care and, you know, I would just get abused and then he would sit down and show me. I learned from so many people there so many great things, and I just loved it. I just thrived in the environment.
Eric: Any coworkers who couldn't handle the abuse that he would dole out?
Bill: Yeah, Mel. Mel couldn't take it, but Mel was timid enough. He hung around.
Matt: What was it about that personality that you were drawn to, that you liked? What did you like about that?
Bill: I liked the directness. I just took my DISC assessment. I had to do that for our directors' group, so I'm pretty much D, you know, that's me, right. I didn't take offense for somebody calling me, you know, whatever they wanted to call me that day. I thought it was...you know, from the sports environment, you know, when you grow up in football and baseball and stuff and hockey, you know, you can give each other a hard time and you don't take it personally. Right. So I don't think we took it personally. I think that that's...I love the competitive side of it, of bidding, winning, winning the job. I love the learning aspect of it. I love the engineering side of it. And I did a lot of drawing and architectural stuff when I was in high school. I just, I knew how to read drawings. I loved figuring all that stuff out. I just, I loved it.
Eric: Do you remember like a big strategic decision that you made in the estimating department there, like, that sticks out to you as like, "Hey, I just saved us this much money by...?"
Bill: I do remember that our CEO came in from New York and we were bidding the job at the time. I believe it was, I can't remember, it might've been the NBC tower here in Chicago because we did end up getting that, and I had certain trades that I would handle, ornamental metal, this and that, and the other thing. And we came in on a Saturday. So everyone was there, the CEO came in because he was gonna review the bid, and I'm there with my executive, you know, the estimating department, everyone's there and of course, they tried to be really formal and give me a hard time.
So they call me into the room, all the executives are sitting there and they say, "Okay, let's go through your numbers." Right. They're going through the numbers and, you know, there's scope, you have to discuss who's covering what. I think the executive was covering one trade, I had another one. I think, you know, I was sure that my numbers were right and he's challenging me and I said, "No, I think you're wrong." The CEO is sitting there, right, he's like, "Are you saying that he, with all this experience, is wrong?" And I said, "Yep. I'm right. I know I'm right." And he goes, "I give you credit for that, kid." And he started laughing. So, Bill had to go back and check his numbers. Then he came back to me and he's yelling at me because he was right. I said, "Well at least now you know, right?"
Eric: So, you sit in there and you're like, "Yep, I'm right, but you were wrong."
Bill: Then they came in and gave me some more shit, right? Then they were yelling at me about, you know, "He was right." I was like, "All right. You're right." But they got a kick out of it because that's what you're supposed to do. That's what we do in our business here as well.
Eric: You earned a little bit of respect.
Bill: You need to challenge each other. You know, if you're right, you're right and if you're wrong, that's okay. But, you know, get after it.
Matt: Yep. You think that's an industry thing in the construction industry or is that kind of a Clune [SP] personality and mentality that you've brought to the company?
Bill: It is in the industry, I think less so these days with a lot of companies, and I do think that we do quite a bit here. Not as much as I'd like, but then again, my assessment says I shouldn't do that as much, I intimidate people.
Eric: I'm not picking up on that at all. That's great. I was just actually listening to something about how they think we should be more challenging in our information because it creates an incentive for people to be, like, more right about things. It's like somebody proposes information to you, the first thing you should do is try to knock it down a little bit just because that's how you whittle away at what's true and what's not true, and yeah, and how it's actually a healthy process to challenge information and people, I don't know. This guy, David Epstein, wrote a book about it called "Range," and that's neither here nor there. I just listened to that yesterday on a podcast.
Bill: Oh, I'm gonna give one of those podcasts a try one of these days. So, you know, I think complacency happens. Like, what you're saying is people become complacent about what they see, you know, day after day and they don't challenge it. I think you have to look at something every day, no matter how boring it is, with a freash set of eyes. And yet that's what you have to challenge yourself to do that. If you don't, you just run the risk of just glossing over the details or just throwing something to a client that, if they're into the details reading that, they're going to say, "Why's this person giving me this? It makes no sense."
Eric: Yeah. So, you love that first job in estimating. You were motivated by all those challenges and the competitive nature of it and the boss and the directness. Where did you move on from the estimating department?
Bill: So, from there, fortunately by then, the industry had kicked in and we were building all these buildings around town and you could...we were winning a number of jobs, 500 West Monroe, we had the NBC tower as well as the NBC studios, which ended up being my first job I worked on, which was a big infrastructure interior job. We had a number of projects in the city. So, I had the benefit of being a young person. You know, timing his everything, right? I had some background, I had support within the company. I didn't know what the hell I was doing and they already gave me a shot to do something, right? So, my first job was to go work on NBC tower building the studios. And, you know, you're interfacing with the head of the facility's group for NBC, right. I, of course, was a more junior role, but my friend Ray was running the job. You're out in the job trailer next to the river there for, you know, a good year, year-and-a-half and you learn so much. You learn so much about building a high-rise building, you know, and really that's the hands-on stuff and it was great.
Matt: What was your role? What was your exact role there?
Bill: I think I was support. So, I'm doing all the shop drawings, you know, APM, system project manager, APM, generating that, keeping the minutes, doing the contracts, change orders, bidding other small jobs as they came in, and basically doing PM role.
Eric: And Ray, you said, was that...?
Bill: Yeah, my good friend. Ray was the main project manager for the job. The client kind of...
Eric: A little bit more seasoned, he was a little more of a veteran?
Bill: Yeah, he was like two years ahead of me. He actually worked in our group for a little while, but he had a CM degree and they moved him out there. Yeah. His personality is a little better for that.
Eric: Long hours again?
Bill: Oh, my gosh, yeah. I used to swim at like 4:30 in the morning and then drive to work from the burbs. A buddy and I decided we're going to train for a triathalon.
Eric: All right. Which one?
Bill: The Chicago Triathalon. Yeah, he did it. I just trained with him. I told him I'd train with him just because it's boring to train by yourself.
Eric: Yeah. This is a thing we've found with a lot of executives is that time in their life, they're like, what, early 30s, late 20s at that time, young families are starting and they, like, hold to the working out very early in the morning thing. Like, the 4:30 getting up and swimming, I'm in it right now. It's, like, what keeps me sane a little bit is to get up and do something, and then I'm just better all day long at work because I got a little bit of that aerobic out. Yeah. We've heard that from a whole bunch of people. It's like life gets really crazy in those years, especially starting families stuff.
Bill: Yeah. As you get older, it changes. So, now I could work out in the middle of the day. We have a gym membership for the company. So the morning is a cup of coffee with my wife and walking the dogs. That's not at 4:30 because I live downtown now, it's at 5:30. So I still get a little bit of extra sleep. I do enjoy that too.
Eric: So yeah, life is a hundred miles a minute at that point in time. You got a young family?
Bill: Yeah, a growing family. So we had, oh my gosh, was that...I'm going to guess my daughter was born there in that time. Yeah. Amy.
Matt: About what time frame was that?
Bill: Oh my God. So she was born in November...I think that was...yeah, we just bought a house. So we just bought a house, you know, a small little ranch in Glen Ellen and Amy was born, you know, the other kids were coming. Yeah, working hard. Yeah, it was pretty nutty. Yeah, and I drove every day to work because we parked on-site and we just drove. So that was...yeah, it was long days.
Eric: Do you remember any biggest failures from your first couple of years? Anything you messed up?
Bill: Yeah, trying to think back on some of that stuff. You know, the biggest failure that probably young people do is they think they know more than they do...they actually do. And they don't take the time to maybe appreciate the knowledge of, you know, those ahead of them because you kind of feel that you've figured this out. I think having the boss Mohammed grounded me or it didn't allow me to do that. He told me how stupid I was when I had no idea. And then you start to get it. I think as far as mistakes go, I got a funny one, but I also...I don't know that I made any major mistakes. I think the system's set up that you can't really screw up that bad, you know, unless you were just ignoring something, you know, you really wouldn't screw up that bad, right?
Matt: What's the funny one?
Bill: Oh, we were doing the USG building. It actually got put on doing the skin of the exterior of the building as well as the steel and concrete and stone and everything. And there's a mechanical pit that was covered in dryvit to save money. They aren't going to put stone there. I mean, they're gonna save money. And, you know, we had to put the additive, the paint additive into the dryvit. We were getting on to winter, so I kept asking the owner, "What color do you want it?" And he says, and he would put it off. I mean this is going like for like two months. I said, "We have to put this in tomorrow, we have to get this going." And he said, "Well, just make it kind of look like the stone." I said, "Have the architecture send us the color and we'll put it in." And they're like, "Just figure it out." So I picked the color, and I didn't do it on purpose, but I picked a color that I thought would match the stone. Yeah, you guys are laughing. Right. Men should not pick colors, right?
Bill: So, they put it on the well, and this goes on for two weeks. Owner comes back, he goes, "What the hell did you do?" It was pink. No, literally it was pink. And I thought it was like we had like a pinkish stone on the building, maybe it would match, and it was horrible. And he's laughing, the owner knows. He goes, "Okay, I'll pay you to paint it." So, the next week, we're having an owners' meeting and my superintendent who's doing that stole my hardhat...you've seen our hardhats and you can put stickers on them, right?
Bill: They had covered it in dryvit, in pink dryvit, except for where the stickers were and they presented it to me at the meeting.
Eric: That's great.
Bill: That was a beauty.
Eric: That's good.
Matt: That's great.
Bill: Joe works for us now. I actually hired him like about five or six years ago, Joe Shrungo [SP].
Eric: Oh, nice.
Bill: He's a super...he's a great guy.
Matt: And that was the guy from [crosstalk 00:40:58].
Bill: That was the guy from...yeah. No, no, this is my superintendent on the job site. Yeah.
Eric: Oh, that's great.
Matt: Okay, so that timeline-wise, just real quick, I wanted to hit on, you said the first day during the flood, the Chicago flood.
Bill: Yeah, it was 1992. I had to go back and check. April 13th, 1992.
Matt: Which job was this [crosstalk 00:41:18]?
Bill: So when I left Diesel, then I went to LaSalle Partners.
Matt: This is after [crosstalk 00:41:23].
Bill: This is after Morse Diesel. I stayed with Morse Diesel, did the high rise. He said, "Listen, there's a high rise. I'm gonna do it from the ground up." That was the deal. I wanna do from the [inaudible 00:431:33] until we were done, right? I could always say I did a high rise, right? Next job we were working on was United Center. After we won the job, I left. It was better for me to move on and then started at LaSalle Partners in the construction group. First day is when the tunnel gets pierced on the Chicago River. All the buildings...half the buildings downtown are flooded from, you know, the old coal tunnels. They used to use those to feed the boilers for the buildings.
Matt: Just for the listeners, do you wanna recall some of, like, that story of just what happened, and do you remember it?
Bill: I just remember we were in 11 South LaSalle and the power goes out because they've got to shut it down, right? I mean, the tunnel's flooding, your mechanical rooms and electrical rooms are downstairs in the basement. So they say, "Okay, pack up all your stuff. We're going to the job site." So I said, "That's fine, we'll go to the job site," which is 231 LaSalle, which is the Continental Bank building at the time. And sure enough, I get there and water's, like, rushing into the basement down there and our superintendents and stuff are down there. The bank can't go down, right? This is a financial institution. So, they're down there slinging sandbags, trying to detour the water around the gear, the electrical gear. And so we say, "Well, we got to help, right?" So, we get down there and we're grabbing sandbags, we're flinging them. And pretty soon we realize, you know, if this hits the gear, it's not good, right. So then we rushed the non-essential personnel out of there, but we saved the bank. They stayed up and running.
Matt: Do these tunnels...they actually connect to the basements of all the buildings?
Bill: Yeah. They actually run through...they actually started using them to run all the telecommunications cable throughout the city where they pierced the tunnel, which I think was...it might've been on Washington or just down here somewhere. Once you hit one, they just started racing through. All the older buildings had them underneath it. So, really yeah, they were all connected like that.
Matt: Yeah. I read that it was kind of this, like, gray area because the city...apparently a lot of the city maps didn't have them formally there. So, you know, company doing the work said, "Well, you didn't provide us with drawings that showed these things," and that became like illegal.
Bill: Yeah. But who actually owned the tunnels too? Because I don't think the buildings owned them. It was...yeah, so.
Matt: Yeah, it was kind of this kind of gray area and got kind of dicey and the legal stuff. So, you're flinging sandbags, you're trying to save this bank from going down and that's your first day on a new job.
Bill: That was my first day and then we never left. I never went back to the office, just stayed at the job site. We were rehabbing the entire building there and I stayed there running those projects for probably the next three or four years.
Matt: Okay. So this is like a huge thing in the city. There must not have been enough crews to go around to do all the repair and rehab work of all these spaces.
Bill: Yeah. So, the rehab work was like a separate deal. And then we were actually doing the construction on the building. We actually rehabbed the rest of the building and when they had old handlers from the '50s, asbestos, all that kind of stuff. So, we were gutting the floors and redoing them in the program fashion. So, there's 26 floors there, we did all 26 floors.
Matt: Okay. How long were you at LaSalle Partners for?
Bill: Well, that morphed into Clune Construction. So, 1997...So, we did a number of projects. You know, I did all different things and different program work, cool projects at 605, at actually Virgin Records when they had...remember when they had the...not the DVDs, the CDs. In Virgin Records, you go put headphones on and listen to them and then buy them. Yeah, we did the store there.
Matt: And can you talk a little bit about the formation there and around the details?
Bill: You know, I think Mike met with each of us, there was five of us original partners, "I want you to be my partner. I want you to be part of this. And you know, we're gonna have you get X percentage of the company and here's how we're doing it." And right now, I'm like, "Yeah, I'll sign whatever you want," because it's worth nothing, right? It was a nominal, you know, buy-in. I'm like...of course, we had to put our house up, you know, on the bond. My wife at the time didn't know that. I said, "Just sign this. We'll be okay. Don't worry. Things will be fine." We wung it a little bit and we figured nothing to lose, you know, we'll just do the best we can. And I think, you know, we had the right players in there, we had the right mindset, we had the entrepreneur mentality, we wanted to win. I hate to lose and, you know, we're gonna give it a go. We have some great ideas. We have a good foundation and started building from that.
Matt: Do you remember that first big job that you won after you made the split?
Bill: Oh gosh.
Matt: And you just kinda went, "Oh, all right, this is what we've been wanting."
Bill: You know, I don't think it was quite like that. I don't think...because we were still a known entity here. I think it was just more or less our business kept growing and I think we just had to get our own systems in place because it went from having all that back-end stuff from a corporate sense to doing it ourselves. So, part of that was figuring that out and part of that was, "Okay, how are we gonna do marketing?" But I think that we kinda each ran our own little groups and then, you know, we would go out and hire our own people and, you know, we kept doing work for the same clients that just kept growing. We had more opportunities. So Mike was right. Yeah.
Matt: So from the beginning of you going from assistant project manager to being a person that is invited to become a partner in a new venture, what allowed you to separate yourself from peers who weren't able to kind of make that ascent?
Bill: You had a tough out the hard years of the BS because it's not smooth sailing. I mean there's a lot of personalities involved and a lot of egos. I think you have to just set your mindset and go straight. And I actually would say that Mohammed, who since, you know, passed away, but I remember him telling me...you know, I'd still call him back for advice. You know, because he's still part of the industry. He knew Mike Clune and everyone knows each other and he said, "You stay there." He goes, "I know this is hard." Ray had left and moved on to something else and I'm like, "This isn't going so good here." Right. This is pre-Clune construction. This is in the LaSalle days. I just moved, I was a pretty loyal person. I didn't wanna be jumping around. I mean, it was only my second real job in the industry. Right. And I just thought I gotta stick this out. I think there's something here. I'm not sure what it is, but I'm gonna stick it out because I came from a very difficult subcontractor environment to one where you're embracing your subs as partners to build and it was a different mindset so I knew what the other side of the fence was like if I wanted to try it again, and I wasn't quite ready for that.
Matt: Talk a little bit about the different interactions with the subcontractors between more Morse Diesel and then LaSalle Partners.
Bill: It's adversarial. The base building deal is adversarial. I mean, I had to be honest, I had to be forthright and either we bought it or we didn't buy it, you know, if you need...and it wasn't always like that from my bosses. Right. They would just say, you know, "They should have known," and I'm like...I mean, I got deposed. I went to court on some lawsuits.
Eric: Oh, wow. And that was just the normal course of business.
Bill: That was of course business. That was of course a business and I didn't like that. I mean these guys had bent over backwards and helped me out and taught me so much and then I'm gonna go and screw them. I couldn't do it.
Matt: Yeah. You think that's the nature of the type of building being done or is that the nature of the firm?
Bill: At the time was the nature of the firm and that was it back then. I don't think it's like that these days with all companies. I think there's some great firms out there that operate, you know, as partners with their subcontractors, you have to. You know, at the time, that's what it was like. And I didn't want to go back to the environment because that was way too stressful. So it was like, "Do I want that stress or do I want this stress I have now?" And I go, "I think I can deal with this for a little bit longer."
Matt: Okay. So Some leaner years, but you were really loyal. You stuck it out, you were there in all those moments and you think that's a big part of why you were there to become a partner and then to kinda continue on.
Bill: Yeah. I mean, I think I was pretty good at what I did. You know, I made money. I was pretty good. I mean, I did a good job. I paid attention to detail. I mean, I knew their systems. I knew how to build and I knew, you know, I was probably not the best manager [inaudible 00:51:44] but you know, I had to learn that a little bit. And we had friendships there. You know, you had a lot of people you were close to and you were, you know, in the trenches with them, and developing those friendships again, it's hard to leave those. It's hard to leave those when you're close and you're just starting to grow the company together. So, and I liked everybody. We went on the trips together, we did things together. So it was fun.
Eric: Is there anything that you've done over time to develop your management ability and skill? Like, if it wasn't something that came supernaturally to you, obviously if you're leading a company, have you...?
Bill: I think that what really happens is that, you know, everyone learns how to adapt to maybe what they're not so strong at because it's survival and you need to be...well, I mean it makes you a better person. So I think that you have to make that choice to maybe change your behavior a little bit.
Matt: Yeah. Is there anything you encourage up and coming managers here?
Bill: So, Charlotte's sitting here and she's saying, "He hasn't changed."
Matt: She's like, "You can go to a couple more seminars."
Bill: Yeah. I think I'm a little better than I was. Yeah. I learned the old-school way and you had to change that. There's some stories I won't tell.
Matt: Do you do any, like, emerging leader development stuff?
Bill: You know, I did a Vistage group, you know, and that's not reflective. I've done a number of these DISC surveys and they're all the same thing. I mean, they are not telling me anything I don't already know. I think that as you mature, you start to...you look at your position and you need to make sure that you're doing what's best for the company, not what's best for yourself. And I think that's what happens the further you go in operations and management, the less you're just on your own and with your team, you really need to contribute in a bigger way. And I think that as our company's developed, it was still run pretty tight when we first started, you know, we still kinda run our teams and part of operations, but not really into it. Right? It was still kinda our own deal. I think that as that emerged and as we became more...you see you're more effective operating a different way.
Matt: You still bring young estimators in and compare their numbers to somebody more senior in a big group?
Bill: We do, I had someone...I try to grab a little project here and there and try to go through it with somebody. I had somebody in my office last week and I asked him to read a couple sentences on this. I said, "Read that." And he read it. I think it was John, and I go, "Read it out loud." And he read it again. I go, "What type of English is that?" He goes, "You're right. That makes no sense." I said, "I know."
Matt: So you still providing those lessons a little bit. You respect to that kind of process and...
Bill: I think email is overused, and especially younger people, I think that they could just...you have to know your audiences when you're emailing people. We had an intern that sent an email out. I actually had an intern contest, right. Yeah, the intern contest, invented the intern contest and they were all gonna give me information. Some of it was questions about my background and what I was trying to do is get the interns to look at more than just what they're being asked to do. It was more about who the company is, you know, do an estimate for me, you know, show me this and just send it to me and I'm gonna give...they were gonna get a prize. Right. I forget what the prize was, I forget what I said it was.
And one of the girls came back and she asked the question, I think what I came back and said or what I need to get back, I said, "Okay, why would you ask me that?" And the right answer is to ask on behalf of all your interns because you think I'm just going to share it with you? And I didn't really quite say it like that blunt, but it was more or less you need to be looking at the bigger picture because if you help everybody, that's a bonus for you as a young person trying to make an impression. And then it was funny to see the responses because some kids came in, they didn't do any preparation. Other ones did a whole lot, didn't make any sense, but that's okay. And no matter who presented to me, they got a prize. So whoever actually submitted it still got a $100 gift certificate to the Clunes store so they could buy some Clune gear or whatever.
Matt: That's cool.
Bill: I don't know where that came from, but anyway, that was a little tangent, but...
Matt: Well, I think it's like, you valued these experiences of being strong and tough and a little bit of a, "Hey, I'm gonna teach you a lesson here," and that's part of something that you saw valuable in your operation.
Bill: I just try to look at it like the owner would look at. If the owner looks at that, they see that, that's your reflection of our company. You should be a reflection of what you do. And so if you don't understand it, why would you give it to somebody...if they asked you the question, "What does that mean?" and you can't answer it then why did you give it to them?
Matt: Yeah. You have any broader thoughts on generational things between when you were coming up and the people coming up these days? I mean, I'm picking up that maybe you do have these types of...
Bill: I would say that the folks coming up these days, for the most part, are pretty awesome. I think that their ideals are a lot more worldly than we were, our generation. I think that they're looking at things in a broader sense. I do think that we provided an environment here at Clune that's more family, it's family first, right? Family first and then, you know, work comes in after that, you know, your health and your family and you need to all be copacetic, otherwise, you're not gonna be happy. So I think that when folks come here and they intern or they start to work, and they've come from somewhere else or not, they start to see that as different. And it's different in the sense, I'm not saying other companies don't do some of that, but you know, they could always come talk to me in the office. They may not, you know, they'd be afraid to, but they can call me Bill, I mean, they don't have to call me Mister and you know, I try to get out to all the offices and make sure that I try to know people and see them. And I think that we try to be inclusive of that. And I think that it allows the young people to kinda grow in the sense that they need to do things differently than I did. And I appreciate that. I mean you can't do it the old way. Yeah.
Eric: Have there been any major shifts in the last 5 to 10 years where you've had to shift the culture of the company because of younger generations coming in?
Bill: No, I think we've always had a pretty good culture and I think that we've...I mean, like yesterday, I leave the golf outing early. I mean, it's not my place to be there when everyone's [inaudible 00:58:47]. I mean, I could hang out and with the best of them, but you know, there's a time and a place for the kids to be together like I was when I was younger and to enjoy themselves without the boss sitting in there. And I don't think of myself as a boss, but obviously they do. So yeah, give them some room.
Bill: Maybe that's the thing, you gotta give them a little bit more room than we used to get. Right.
Matt: Mohammed ran a pretty tight ship and it's a little bit different these days.
Bill: He was great. I'll tell you what, he was great. I learned so much from him and others there that your first job really teaches you a lot about the industry and how to build and, you know, if you're talking about construction or whatever job, I guess, if you could really learn the nuts and bolts of things, in my opinion, and how the industry works, number one, if you like that, then you know that's where you're supposed to be.
Matt: How different is the industry, the construction industry, around the country? So if you go do a building in Dallas versus a building in Chicago, are there major differences or is it pretty consistent?
Bill: It's different in the different markets. Each market, I say, has its own personality and its own way of doing business. Believe it or not, D.C. and Virginia, it's very political. It's a political environment and it's political down to the way work gets awarded and who talks to...and this is not public work we're talking about, this is private work. It kind of permeates the industry. New York, a lot like Chicago but a lot more hard nose. But good tradesman, good tradesman in New York, good trades. Good trades here in Chicago. I think that L.A. has got some good union tradesman, but San Francisco is a whole different animal. The people out there in our staff are all great, but each region is different. Each region is different.
Eric: Do you feel you have an advantage in the Chicago market growing up on the South Side and being a Chicago kid?
Bill: No. Not a doubt.
Bill: I know.
Matt: Huh. Interesting. Becoming CEO, that's like a point in the career timeline that was a big deal.
Bill: I can walk you through how we kinda...you know.
Matt: Is there anything interesting? Like, I mean, do you know, like, were you up for the job against one or two other guys?
Bill: I don't think it was like that. I was the last man standing maybe that...I probably fit what we needed at the time. And I think that becoming CEO or whatever position you look to go into, you're kinda already there by the time, right, you're being appointed or asked to fill that role. I don't think I had my target set on it. Believe it or not, that's not what I like doing the most, you know, I like building it, I like doing the projects and I would just want to do that. But you know, you kind of grow into that role and your partners are around you and you gotta look at who your support team is and how you can make the company better. It's always about the company. If you can make the company better than everyone will be happier. And I think we looked at that.
Eric: Was there a job that you had to give up or a role that you had to give up when you became CEO that you missed?
Bill: So I was president of Chicago and CEO, and Mike had always been CEO and president but we didn't have five regions at the time. So then I became president of Chicago, which is actually pretty easy. And then I was kind of in charge of operations, in company's sense, but more on the East Coast and the West Coast because they had been established. And then once I become CEO, then I realized I wasn't a good president and I wasn't a good CEO. I had to cut bait, but it took us a while just to kinda get ourselves organized here in Chicago to make sure I could make that switch.
Matt: What was it about being in the president role that you really enjoyed that you don't get to do now as CEO?
Bill: I don't sit in operations in Chicago anymore. I don't sit through you know, the day-to-day, you know, what we're bidding. I mean, I know we're bidding, I know what's going on. But I don't sit and make the operational decisions about how we're going to go after things here in Chicago. I'm involved in it and I do insert myself at times, but you have to let those that are running the office manage the office. If I start stepping on their toes, people start coming to me and that diminishes what they'd been entrusted to do.
Matt: Do you ever felt like you've won business because of your South Side cred? Just connecting with another business partner who maybe had similar...
Bill: I know I've lost business because of it.
Matt: Maybe that, is there a story there?
Bill: No, I almost got like in an argument with one of our owners, actually I did get an argument in one of our presentations. Yeah, in front of a whole room of people. Him and I were going at it.
Matt: He did not like putting the word "the" in front of Jewel?
Bill: I don't know if that was it.
Bill: We got the job in the end. We'd been friends a long time, we were kinda getting after each other in the meeting and everyone's like sitting back, "Oh my goodness, what's going on here?" But yeah, we were both pretty deep personalities there, but we worked it out. It's fine.
Matt: Going from the operations side of things as president of Chicago and then transitioning to CEO, what was the biggest surprise or biggest challenge that you had to overcome?
Bill: Mike's relationships and then Mike having to transition out and he knew he had to, but it's so hard to give something up. You know, I wasn't so immersed into the banking and a lot of that side of the thing because Mike had handled it and, you know, CFO, prior CFO. So I was not on the day-to-day stuff like that. So I had to learn that a little bit. I also think that on, you know, the regional management, in tandem was us, the team, but Mike had hired people in different regions that were loyal to Mike. I don't mean they weren't loyal to me, but he had a relationship with them. I don't want you to say loyal. I had to get my own relationship with everybody. It takes time, but we've done that, and it wasn't easy. That was a tough one. That was tough.
Matt: How do you go about building those relationships?
Bill: You have to be honest. You have to listen. I got to change the way I manage. You have to really listen and be empathetic to everyone. You know, you think you know everything and you don't know half of what you think you know. You got to look at people as people. Let them do their thing. You don't know what they're dealing with behind the scenes.
Matt: Well, should we run through some rapid-fire questions?
Matt: All right. How many hours do you sleep at night?
Bill: I try to sleep seven to eight hours these days, believe it or not. Eight is better than seven.
Eric: Oh, that's pretty good.
Bill: And those are sober hours.
Matt: Sober hours. So, you got to cut it off earlier in the day.
Bill: Yeah, right, or you need more sleep if it's not sober, right.
Matt: I'm admiring your boots. What's the story behind those boots?
Bill: Oh, really? I didn't wear the red ones today. I got these in Cheyenne, Wyoming on the way to an elk hunt in Utah. I drove out there by myself and I decided to stop in Cheyenne. I've never been there.
Eric: One of those roadside boot stores?
Bill: No, it was in the town. It was actually October and it was the day of a snowstorm and it was a homecoming parade for the University of Wyoming. And there was so many horses and stuff and I'm like, "I'm going to just check this out." You know, and so I parked the truck and walked around, ended up buying a pair of boots. I'm actually headed out in a few weeks to an elk hunt out in New Mexico. I got to find myself some new boots.
Matt: So, you're an outdoorsman. How do you get into...so, elk hunting is normally not something that a South Side Chicago kid can do.
Matt: How did you get into that?
Bill: You know what? I love the outdoors. I loved fishing, it started with that. I had a college roommate that took me to Canada, duck hunting, and that built into pheasant hunting. We did some projects for some secret service guys, became good friends of ours. One of them was a big game hunter. So, it was a group with all friends. He says, "You got to try this." So, we all kind of went out and did a hunt and it's so much fun. I don't care if I don't shoot anything. It's so much fun.
Eric: I deer hunt and I pheasant hunt. I've never done elk before. Do you bow or do you take a gun?
Bill: Rifle. I'm not a bow guy. I don't even know the hobby. They're out there by...I should show you the elk. They just took down this place. This is my third time there and I've turned guys onto it. It's five years running. Even the guys [inaudible 01:07:21], we filled the camp this year, 50,000 acres of private land.
Matt: Well, the other one that's a gold mine, if you can figure out a farmer in South Dakota who will let you just walk onto his land and pheasant hunt.
Bill: I'd done that.
Matt: And I know a handful of guys who know a farmer and I cannot get the name of the farmer from them. I've known the guy for like 10 years and every time I see him I ask him, hoping he'll slip up one of these times.
Bill: So, a friend of ours, we went out there early. We go to South Dakota hunt every year. We're doing two this year, but we decided to go a few days early on a public land hunt and we had no idea. We just got some maps and we went and tried it. Ans you go out to what you think is public land, it's barren, prairie. But we found a couple of good spots and hid some birds and we were sitting in a cafe having lunch, and roadside, middle of nowhere, right. And so we just like, we asked the guy, "You know anybody who will let somebody pheasant hunt?" And he said, "Yeah Jim, yeah, Jim might. He takes some money for the church, you know, maybe." So, we drove down. He told us, "You know, there's no signs, right. You go down about a half-mile, there'll be like this on your right. You'll turn left and take another right."
We're pulling in the guy's farm and he's got a couple rows of trees, this big farmland, and there's pheasant everywhere. I mean, we're like, "Oh goodness," right. So, we go up, we ask him, "Oh yeah, you go ahead." You know, we go, "We heard, like, you take a little money for the church." "Yeah, whatever you boys think. Go have a good time." There had to be 300 or 400 birds jumping out of the field. It was just me and one guy. So, it was hard to get at 'em but we got our limit within about, I don't know, 40 minutes, right?
Bill: So, we're done. And I mean, there were birds flying all over his house. They're jumping like chickens out in the field. And we go up to the door and he says, "How did you do?" I said, "Well, we did pretty good." He goes, "Did you see any?" I said, "How could he not see them?" We're shooting like crazy and they're flying around his house. So, we each gave him 50 bucks, gave him 50 bucks and he near about had a heart attack. He said, "You boys come back anytime you want."
Eric: That's awesome.
Matt: So, did you take a dog out there? Or did you guys just [crosstalk 01:09:34]?
Bill: Yeah, we have a dog.
Matt: You have a dog?
Bill: A couple of dogs.
Matt: Do you train them yourself?
Bill: I do, and I have...some folks helped. I have a hunt club out in Elgin that I belong to.
Bill: Yeah, we used to belong in McGraw.
Matt: That's cool. That's a cool place. McGraw is a cool place. It's awesome. Where do you go for ducks?
Bill: McGraw, we have a draw. We had a draw last week. I actually had a club out here, but I just don't have the time to do-it-yourself stuff. I just need someone to set it...I just don't have time.
Matt: Wow. Good connection. What was the best book you ever read?
Bill: One of my favorite books I've ever read was "East of Eden" because my daughter gave it to me and she told me it was her favorite book. My daughter Carrie gave it to me and she signed it and gave it to me for my birthday. And I would tell you if you asked me to read a book, that would not be one I would pick. It was awesome and I read the whole...it was a good book, a long book, but it's good. I read a lot of history and things like that, military books. I like a lot of that. Self-help books, I liked a lot of...I like just about anything.
Matt: Favorite movie you've ever seen.
Bill: Okay, I love Western so [inaudible 01:11:50], I was a big Dirty Harry guy, you know, back in the '70s but actually one of my favorites is "The Outlaw Josey Wales." Probably not your classic movie. I'm not really into the cinema like my buddies were, but I could watch that anytime. I like that one.
Matt: What's your favorite Chicago restaurant?
Bill: That's hard to pick. It's like, what do you want to eat, right? And I think living downtown now, I know more. Topo Gigio and Wells is really good, as well as Piccolo Sonyo, which is over on Halsted, is great for Italian.
Matt: You do the stuff on Randolph Street?
Bill: Yeah, there's some good ones down there. You know, they got The Girl & The Goat and all that sort of. It's hard to get in some of that. We used to do, we called it a squad dinner with my wife and her two boys and her best friend and we would go out once a month and we'd pick somewhere to go. We'd go, like, for fried chicken where, I forget, we'd find the best fried chicken in Chicago and they got like dollar Hamm's beers on tap there and, you know, you get like 15 wings or, no, 15 drumsticks to eat. It was great. So, the steakhouses are great too. I love Morton's actually on Rush.
Bill: Yeah. I think they have a good steak.
Eric: How about, what's the first website you check every day? Do you have that go-to website?
Bill: I don't go...I don't check any. I mean I might do my LinkedIn on Mondays, you know, the weather. I don't really...for me it's...I kind of get bored. I want to get to work.
Matt: Do you read "Crain's" at all? Do you get the...?
Bill: Everyday. Yeah, I get the "Crain's." Yeah, I read through all that. I read "The Wall Street Journal." I get that delivered here and I try to look through that if I have some time. I used to read it on the train when I commuted but now I just spend a little time in the office doing it.
Matt: What's something that you believe that few others do? What's an unpopular belief you have? Something that maybe differentiates you from other CEOs?
Bill: That's such a broad question. I would say that I really believe that you have to give, and this is probably what...I don't know other CEOs, I couldn't really tell you and I know some that are really good, but I would say that you really should give credit to those around you. I don't need the accolades. In fact, I feel uncomfortable when I get them. I'd rather just give the rewards to those who dug in and really made it happen. I will say this, I don't like when people try to take credit for things they haven't done or they think they did. That kind of irritates me but sometimes I bite my tongue on that. That usually comes out in the wash.
Matt: Do you have a favorite quote?
Bill: I like that Winston Churchill quote, you know, "Without effort...if you don't fail, you're not trying." Then pretty much that's what it says and about the man in the battle, you know, with the blood, the sweat, the grit. He keeps getting knocked down but keeps getting back up. I just love that quote. If there's no effort in it, if it's easy, you're really not doing your job. You need to get after it. Not every day because that's exhausting but you got to pick your moments.
Eric: How do you balance or how have you balanced work-life over the years? Has it been an easy thing? Has it been a struggle for you?
Bill: I think you went back to it. When you're young, you're swimming in the morning. You got the kids, you got work, it's hard to balance. I think that we offer the opportunity here to make sure your family is first. So, you know, you've got to go home and take care of the soccer practice or being your football coach or whatever you're going to do, do it, just do it because it'll be over before you know it. And people told me that, you know, as much as you don't want to believe what they're saying, it's true. So, you listen to them and I get it. And I would say that was a good balance. I would say now with the travel, it's very difficult and I don't think people realize how difficult travel is, you know, they think it's glamorous. It's just another thing to do and it takes you away from your home. You can't go pick up your laundry, you can't...whatever you want to do, you can't do because you're gone.
I mean Sunday I'm going to New York. We have a grand opening in New York for 200 Park, we just finished the first phase of a wonderful job, the entrance into Grand Central Station. A really, really big, big job for us. I actually flew back from Bermuda for the interview when we got the job. But I would say that I'm actually probably going to take off Tuesdays and work from home one day a week then. My step-son's got hockey and then my wife's runs a business and she had a nanny for years. We don't need a nanny, the kid is in high school. I mean actually a helper to get the kids around, they're both playing hockey. It's like they're all over the place, right?
Bill: I think Tuesdays, got practice, I can work from home and manage that. I've missed the last two Tuesdays because I had stuff going on and I'm traveling but trying to just work that into the family and I think you have to take time off. And I think that we don't punch a clock, you're expected to be here on time and to do your job but if you've got to go home early or you're sick or you get some...take your kid to school his first day. I mean, do all that stuff. When I was growing up, you were at work at 7:00 and I left at 6:00 or 7:00 and that was it.
Matt: Do you wish you would've had some more of that flexibility when you were raising kids in school age?
Bill: For sure, it was a mistake.
Matt: And we hear that a lot. Oftentimes it seems like a lot of executives have tried to carve that out for their current employees, which I think is a good thing.
Bill: You have to allow that to happen. You can't carve it out for them, just allow it to happen. Now you have paternity leave, right?
Matt: Yeah, right.
Bill: There was no paternity, right. You took a couple of days off and made sure everyone was okay and your mother-in-law came over and you went back to work.
Matt: One of our managers is in the middle of that right now.
Eric: Anything we missed, any other good stories that we really want to hit?
Bill: Other than I've been so fortunate and blessed to have all this happen. And I think that one of the better books that I also learned about being in the right place at the right time, you know, it was about Microsoft, like how he started the business because he did like...what was the name of it?
Matt: It's not "Tipping Point?"
Bill: No, no, "Tipping Point" is a different one but this...maybe it was, but it was the one where pretty much if you're in the right place at the right time, you have the right skills and you're all of a sudden, like, this is the most obscure thing but it's like working for you and you see an opportunity and you just keep moving with it, the next thing you know, here you are. And I think that can happen to any anybody, but you have to put yourself in that position. And I think that if you strive to put yourself in with good people, in with people that are smarter than you, and don't be offended and don't be intimidated, just do it, get in front of them and be part of that group. And if you fit, you'll know it and people will embrace you and they'll start to work for you. Whatever your idea happens to be, try it. You've got to try it. If you don't try it...I remember my mom, growing up, saying, you know, "You can be anything, right, you can be whatever you want." I think all parents say that, right?
Bill: But you know, you start thinking and you start to believe it and you'll know when you're...you know, I'm not going to be a professional baseball player, I'm not going to be a pro hockey player, but you know, I can be really good at what I was doing and I really liked that. So, I fell into the perfect job with the perfect people, and I was surrounded by just the group that, you know, made me happy. I wish I was more mature through the whole process but I wasn't, but maybe that was what made it okay too, maybe that was part of it. Who knows?
Eric: Yeah. That's great.
Matt: That's great.